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Donegal Carpets – Bespoke Hand-Knotted Area Rugs

Almost no one can afford a Donegal carpet – that is fact. But what is fascinating about those carpets is the history of the company. When the first factory opened in Killybegs, the majority of its employees could scarcely afford shoes, let alone a carpet.

Donegal carpets have always been still expensive. A fine version comes recently up for auction at Sheppard’s and was estimated to sell for between €10,000 and €15,000.

The first Donegal carpets were made in the late 1890s by the Scottish industrialist Alexander Morton in Killybegs. Morton was by that time a head of a textile manufacturing firm in Ayrshire. Although his factories already produced machine-woven rugs, he was determined to make handmade carpets like the ones popular in Turkey and Persia. He chose the county because of two major reasons: a ready supply of willing workers and an almost infinite number of sheep.

The workers, who were mostly women, had never made carpets before but many had worked in lace-making and embroidery. The local sheep farmers, spinners and dyers soon got involved as well as the enterprise was a big source of employment. By 1906 Morton opened 4 more factories employing around 600 between them.

The carpets were entirely handwoven-the same way as Turkish and Persian ones. The early pieces used traditional eastern motifs. Later designs used stylised floral patterns of the British Arts and the Crafts movement. Those, done by the architect and designer Charles Voysey, were especially popular. The company also made a number of carpets in the Celtic Revival style.

Donegal carpets were purchased by the Buckingham Palace, the Windsor Castle, and the White House in Washington.